A House Committee has heard a bill aimed at making sure new mothers understand their option to give up a child, under Missouri’s Safe Haven law.
That law was signed in 2002 by Governor Bob Holden. It allows a mother of a healthy and unharmed baby up to five days old to leave that child with staff at a fire, ambulance or police station or hospital without fear of prosecution, and to use the statute as an affirmative defense when relinquishing a child up to one year old.
See the Safe Haven law in Missouri Statute.
It is the language about an affirmative defense that Sponsor, Representative Kevin McManus (D-Kansas City) says has been confusing according to child advocates. “There is a general feeling that might provide a disincentive for someone to use or even understand the Safe Haven law.”
McManus says he has been told that the language about an affirmative defense creates a fear of prosecution. His bill attempts to simplify the statute by making the age in the law 45 days instead of 5.
“That is a date that folks can educate and increase awareness about the Safe Haven law so parents can understand it, but also it’s one that, from research and from talking to child advocates, is used in many other states including neighboring Kansas.”
See the language of McManus’ bill, HB 1568
McManus says the law was only used in Missouri in two cases in 2011. “I think the number each year has varied from 2 to 9. But, there are a handful of cases every year, and from my perspective, if we’re saving one child’s life it’s worth it.”
Advocates want to see the law used more often. The Coordinator of the Child Abuse Roundtable in Kansas City, Debby Howland, told lawmakers, “It’s hard to imagine a more heart wrenching story or decision that a mom has to make when she has a new baby and she realizes she can’t care for it. We hope those babies don’t end up in dumpsters or in dry creek beds, as some have.”